Monday, July 22, 2019

An Interview with Paul Krassner - Part Six

Kliph Nesteroff: You once appeared on the Tonight Show while you were high on LSD. Orson Bean was the guest host.

Paul Krassner: That was just my thing. I had psychedelic macho. I testified at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial high on acid too. Abbie Hoffman stopped speaking to me for ten months because of that. In retrospect, I was, if nothing else, showing off to myself. "I can handle this and they won't even know!" 

I'm on the Tonight Show on acid and Orson Bean asks me, "Have you taken LSD?" It was a coincidence. He meant in a general sense. But I had this thought, "Oh, no, he can tell!" I kept staring at Ed McMahon because his face was melting into his chest. 

There was a core of reality and I turned back to Orson. I should note, Orson Bean and I were old friends. He had a framed cover of The Realist hanging in his dressing room. He was in a play called Subways are for Sleeping. The cover showed a cartoon by Richard Guindon. I forget the chronology, but Orson and I were already friends. 

He was at my wedding. He founded a school based on a school in England called Summerhill. The essence was that learning can be fun and should be fun. When he hosted the Tonight Show he had the power to book who he wanted. He booked the director of that school, A.S. Neill. Orson then stared the Fifteenth Street School in New York. My daughter Holly went there. 

Orson loved The Realist and he loved Lenny Bruce, so that was the background of his inviting me on the Tonight Show. He asked me about [the famous Realist piece] The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book. We had to describe presidential necrophilia without saying what it was on the air. 

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

Paul Krassner: Anyway, Orson said, "You've taken LSD, haven't you?" I said, "Yes." And the audience booed.  

Kliph Nesteroff: (laughs)

A friend of mine booked me on The Mike Douglas Show. And for that I took a pot brownie. It takes as much as four hours to come on. So I ate it at Grand Central Station. It took four hours to get to Philadelphia where they did the show.

The producer of The Mike Douglas Show show later became the producer on The Dick Cavett Show. She wanted me to come on, but Cavett said, "No, he's too unpredictable." I thought he would have liked a guest who was unpredictable, but apparently not. 

Kliph Nesteroff: It is strange that you would be booked on The Joe Pyne Show and the Tonight Show and The Mike Douglas Show, yet Dick Cavett turns you down.

Paul Krassner: Yes! That was ironic. They did explain to me that it could have been because he already had Jerry Rubin on. Jerry Rubin...

Kliph Nesteroff: He always ruined it for everybody.

Paul Krassner: (laughs) In a way! He and Abbie [Hoffman]. When I met Abbie we were on an acid trip talking about Lenny Bruce. 

When he heard that I had known Lenny and edited his autobiography How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, he said, "Lenny was my God! Ah!" 

Whereas Jerry Rubin listened to Lenny Bruce albums before he went out to speak. Abbie was spontaneous. Jerry was forced. And that came through. 

I remember at one rally Jerry said, "Richard Nixon is an asshole!" I thought, "Yeah, but that's just name calling. What about the issues?" San Francisco had an annual event with comedy outdoors with dozens of comedians performing in Golden Gate Park. My wife and I were there and this one comic got up and said, "Isn't Ronald Reagan an asshole?" The audience cheers. He goes, "Oh? You like the political stuff, huh?" That became a running gag with my wife and me. "Oh, you like the political stuff, huh?"

Kliph Nesteroff: It's not political satire just because you mention Nixon's name. 

Paul Krassner: Right. Johnny Carson didn't mention any political stuff at all until Nixon. One time I was performing in New York. There were two FBI guys in the audience taking notes. I pointed them out and said, "Am I talking too fast for you guys? I don't want you to get writer's cramp." 

Kliph Nesteroff: David Steinberg says he was heckled for several months whenever he did Nixon material. He later recognized the faces of his hecklers on TV during the Watergate hearings.

Paul Krassner: A revelation, Kliph. Well, since I was publishing satire and wasn't breaking any laws, they couldn't bust me. My FBI file had a letter to the editor of Life magazine complaining about their favorable article on me. 

It was the New York office that wrote this poison pen letter. It wasn't on FBI stationary. It was a guy who called himself Howard Rassmussen, not his real name, from Brooklyn College, School of General Studies. It was skillful with details and verisimilitude. It said, "To call Krassner a social rebel is too cute. He is nothing but a raving, unconfined nut." My parents were horrified, but I thought it was funny and used it as the title of my autobiography.

Kliph Nesteroff: Did you get the sense that Jerry Rubin was not earnest in his politics? Was he just a counterculture conformist who later turned into a Ronald Regan conformist?

Paul Krassner: Well, it's like asking if Larry Flynt was a pornographer or did he truly believe in the First Amendment. But it's an excellent observation because you're right. 

I think Kurt Vonnegut came up with this phrase. "You become what you pretend to be." Jerry Rubin had been a sports reporter in Cincinnati. When he came to Berkeley he would hang around and take notes, so they thought he was a spy. But a spy wouldn't be that blatant about it. That was his style. He wanted to understand. 

He was one of the organizers of the first Teach-In on the Berkeley campus. This was during the Vietnam War. He called me to be an emcee. He also wanted me to put him in touch with Norman Mailer. I suggested Phil Ochs to sing between speakers. He hadn't heard of Phil Ochs, but he took him. And Ochs resonated with that audience. 

As a result of his Berkeley thing, Dave Dellinger, a peace activist on the East Coast, invited Jerry Rubin to organize the demonstrations at the Pentagon in October 1967. A friend of mine introduced Abbie to Jerry and that's how that clique began to form. 

Abbie would say things like, "Kill your parents." Then Jerry would start using it. I objected to it even though I knew it was a metaphor like, "Oh, you're killin' me!" But I knew it would be taken literally by the public. He started using that and the National Inquirer put on the cover: "Yippie Jerry Rubin Advises Young People to Kill Parents." 

There was jealousy from Abbie. He said, "We're all a united front" and then was pissed when Jerry got all the credit. Anyway, the point is that when Jerry became a [stock] marketer, people would criticize him. Abbie would defend him. 

He said, "You can criticize him after you can lie down between the tracks going to Oakland," which was the route where they shipped soldiers from Oakland as they sent them off to Vietnam. He would do that. I would never lie between the tracks. If it wasn't genuine, then he certainly put on a good show.

Kliph Nesteroff: When I watch Jerry Rubin on something like the Phil Donahue Show, he is so obnoxious that it sorta sabotages the anti-war cause... making dissenters unsympathetic...

Paul Krassner: I agree. And it's why I couldn't get on The Dick Cavett Show. That's an excellent analysis.

Kliph Nesteroff: You did mushrooms for your appearance on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. This doesn't seem like the ideal setting for a psilocybin trip... or maybe it is, I don't know...

Paul Krassner: That one started off on an awkward note. 

The mushrooms... it was heavy... I think it was 1978 and right after the Jonestown Kool-Aid thing. A week later Harvey Milk was killed. Tom Snyder's first question to me was, "You were in San Francisco. What the heck is going on there? First guys taking the Kool-Aid and then a guy shoots the mayor? What's going on there? What the heck is going on there?" 

I remember saying in a sing-songy voice, "Our city is more violent than your-orrrs!" He turned to his producer Andrew Friendly, Fred Friendly's son, as if to say, "Why did you book this flake?" 

Then I said it might have been a CIA thing in Jonestown. There was a lot of suspicion about that. He said, "Oh, so you're paranoid, huh? You're paranoid." So, yeah. The mushrooms... it started in an uncomfortable spot. 

When I started to make him laugh, then it was okay. He was speaking and his laughter turned into Dan Aykroyd doing an impression of him! His laughter appeared visually to me like notes on a sheet of music, "HA ha HA ha HA ha ha ha ha HA." 

Abbie Hoffman was on the lam at the time and he told me he'd be somewhere watching. He had gone underground. He was a fugitive. At the end of the interview I said, "Today is Abbie Hoffman's birthday. He's watching somewhere." I looked in the camera, "Happy Birthday, Abbie." Tom Snyder said, "Do you think you could get him on the show?"

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